Who is Africa’s first female president? How many female African presidents have there been? This is one of many untold great African women’s stories. In fact, the narrative we hear is frequently negative, depicting African women’s struggles rather than their triumph.
This profile of African Women Heads of State seeks to tell the other side of their story while also inspiring current and future generations of African women to be greater than those who came before them. As of July 2021, these are the African Women’s Heads of State.
Slyvie Kining: Acting President of Burundi (February – October 1993)
Slyvie Kiningi was Africa’s first female president. She served as Burundi’s Prime Minister from February 10, 1993 to October 7, 1994.
She served as acting President of the country from October 27, 1993 to February 5, 1994, when the incumbent President Melchior Ndadaye was assassinated along with six of his officials.
Kiningi gathered 15 ministers after her death to continue ruling the country. As a result, she is the continent’s first female president.
Ivy Matsepe-Cassaburi, Acting President of South Africa (September 2005)
Ivy Matsepe-Cassaburi also served as acting President of South Africa in September 2005, when the President and his Vice President were out of the country for four days.
On September 25, 2008, she was also chosen by the cabinet to serve as the constitutional and official head of state for 14 hours.
This was the time between the resignation of current President Thabo Mbeki and the inauguration of Kgalema Motlanthe.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia ( January 2006 – January 2018)
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was Africa’s first elected President, serving two terms in a row after winning the 2005 and 2011 Presidential elections.
She ran for President against Charles Taylor in 1997, but she was defeated. In June of 2016, she was also elected Chair of the Economic Community of West African States.
Rose Francine Rogombe, Interim President of Gabon (June 2009 – October 2009)
Rose Francine Rogombe was the interim President of Gabon from June to October 2009, following the death of President Omar Bongo.
Because she was first in line for presidential succession as President of the Senate at the time, she automatically became the Head of State.
Agnes Monique Ohsan Bellepeau, Acting President of Mauritius (March – July 2012 and May – June 2015)
From March 31, 2012 to July 21, 2012, Agnes Monique Ohsan Bellepeau served as Acting President of Mauritius.
This was the time between the resignation of current President Anerood Jugnauth and the inauguration of new President Kailash Purryag.
From May 29, 2015 to June 5, 2015, she served as Acting President between Purryag’s resignation and the inauguration of the new President, Ameenah Gurib.
Joyce Hilda Banda, President of Malawi (April 2012 – May 2014)
Joyce Hilda Banda took over as President of Malawi on April 7, 2012, after President Bingu wa Mutharika died. She was the fourth President of the United States.
She was also the first female Vice President of the United States (May 2009 to April 2012). President Banda was named the 40th most powerful woman in the world and the most powerful woman in Africa by Forbes in 2014.
Catherine Samba, Acting President of Central African Republic (January 2014 – March 2016)
From 2014 to 2016, Catherine Samba Panza served as the Central African Republic’s Acting President.
When rebel leader Michael Djotodia resigned from his self-appointed presidency, she took over as interim President. She previously served as mayor of Bangui, the capital city, from 2013 to 2014.
Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of Mauritius (June 2015 – March 2018
From 2015 to 2018, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim served as Mauritius’ first female president.
Following the resignation of then-President Kailash Purryag in 2014, she was chosen as a Presidential candidate. The National Assembly unanimously elected her as President.
Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia (October 2018 – Present)
Sahle-Work Zewde is Ethiopia’s first elected female president and the continent’s only female president (out of 54).
She was unanimously elected by members of the National Parliamentary Assembly on October 25, 2018.
Prior to her election as President, she served as the Special Representative of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to the African Union and as the Head of the United Nations Office in Africa.
Samia Suluhu Hassan, President of Tanzania (March 2021 – Present)
Samia Suluhu Hassan is Tanzania’s first acting female President, joining Sahle-work Zewde as the continent’s only other current female President.
She was sworn in on March 19, 2019, following the unexpected death of former Tanzanian President John Magufuli. Prior to being chosen as Magufuli’s running mate, Hassan was an active Tanzanian journalist and activist.
These African female heads of state stand on the shoulders of many female giants who came before them, known and unknown, remembered and forgotten.
These include, but are not limited to, the Dahomey Amazons of Benin, an all-female military regiment on the shoulders of which many women serving in the armed forces and law enforcement stand.
Women have made an inestimable contribution to what Africa is today. The recovery from the disruptive and brutal colonization and slave trade, on the other hand, has been extremely slow.
Partially, African leaders, mostly men, who mismanaged, abused, and continue to abuse their power since the end of colonialism bear responsibility for disempowering African women, whose contributions are unquestionably required to build a more prosperous, just, and peaceful Africa.